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How Do I Choose the Best Over-the-Counter Laxative?

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  • Written By: Autumn Rivers
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 03 August 2014
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One of the best ways to quickly relieve constipation is to use laxatives, which can typically be purchased at many stores without a prescription. You should consider how each type of over-the-counter laxative works before selecting one, taking into consideration additional factors, such as the length of time that each one can safely be used. For example, both stool softeners and saline laxatives tend to make the stool easier to pass by softening it. Lubricant laxatives, on the other hand, add oil to the stool while also allowing it to soak up water so that it is easier to pass. Finally, some laxatives work by stimulating the bowels, and fall into the category of either stimulants or bulk-forming laxatives.

Some laxatives exist to soften the stool by allowing fluid to enter it so that it is easy to pass. Saline laxatives are an example of this type, and are available in the form of tablets, suppositories, or liquids, though you can also use them as an enema. One important note about this kind of over-the-counter laxative is that you should not use it for more than a week at a time. In fact, the same guideline goes for another similar kind of laxative that is simply referred to as a stool softener. This kind comes in the form of liquids, tablets, or enemas, with results showing up within five days in most cases.

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Another type of over-the-counter laxative, called a lubricant laxative, works by coating the outside of the stool with mineral oil so that it can pass easily. Additionally, it ensures that the stool retains water so that it is softer than usual. This type is available in the form of powder, liquid, and suppository, with results that are usually apparent in less than an hour. Like stool softeners, this type of laxative should not be taken for more than a week, as mineral oil is not usually healthy long-term.

There is one more kind of over-the-counter laxative that works a little differently than others, called a bulk-forming laxative. This type relies on the fact that the bowel is often stimulated by larger stools, allowing them to pass without issue. This, this product works by allowing the stool to retain water in order to increase its size, causing it to stimulate the bowel and relieve constipation. An over-the-counter laxative that works similarly to the bulk-forming type is a stimulant, which irritates the bowel enough to make it contract, resulting in constipation relief. It typically produces results within a day, and should not be taken for longer than one week.

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